Concern For One Another

“Concern For One Another”

Hebrews 10:19-25 (10:24-25) – November 14, 2021

            Have you worshiped at another church – perhaps when you went out of town, or on a trip to see relatives – and found the worship at that other church was quite different from our worship here at St. Luke’s Church? I can relate! I have worshiped at churches in a number of different faith traditions, in all different kinds of church buildings, although they all proclaimed the same Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ. The same God receives all the glory! Some churches in a more rambunctious manner than we do here.

            Our writer to the Hebrew believers in the Messiah is writing to small groups of believers scattered all around the area of Asia Minor. Our Preacher writes to people very familiar with the Temple and Jewish sacrificial system.

            The scattered Hebrew believers worshiped in houses, sometimes synagogues. A far different place and space than the great, big Temple in Jerusalem. Think of that huge building! The High Priest was only able to go into the Most Holy Place of the Temple once a year, on Yom Kippur, with the most holy of sacrifices, to atone for the sins of the nation of Israel.

            This was at a time when there still was a Temple standing in Jerusalem. Yet, not for long. In just a few years, the Roman armies are going to totally destroy the Temple. But – what on earth are the faithful devout Jews going to do when that happens, to be certain sure that their God forgives them their sins? The Preacher to the Hebrew believers told them – yet again, in different ways – that there is a better way to God. That way is the Messiah Jesus.  

            I have worshiped in larger churches. A few times I’ve gone to cathedrals, like here in downtown Chicago. Not only to be surrounded by all of that beautiful stonework, artwork, and stained glass, but also to be surrounded by the glory of God. It is an amazing experience to worship in a place like one of those large, magnificent churches.  Some Christians have a problem, though. It doesn’t matter if they lived in the first century or the twenty-first century. Some believers try really hard to reach God on their own through doing good deeds. Going overboard helping people. Giving so much it seriously hurts.

.           “You’re never done because you can never do enough. After all, it’s not a way for God’s adopted children to establish a right relationship with God.  Of course, God’s people sometimes treat Christianity as a way to make God “happy.”  We sometimes assume you have to think, do or say just the right things to connect to God.” [1]

These beloved people, these God-followers just do not get it. God does not want people to be forced to do anything out of fear, with people scared to pieces, so afraid that they won’t worship God in the proper way. It happens throughout the centuries, not just long ago. It still goes on today – people think they have to worship the “correct” way to connect to God.

I’ve attended some African-American worship services. They are often quite different from the more quiet, sedate way we worship here at St. Luke’s Church. I had the privilege to preach in one service some years ago, at a Baptist church on the west side of Chicago. In a converted building, three storefronts put together. The building did not look like much from the outside. But, inside? A whole different thing. The spirit of God came down and transformed that worship space – and the worshipers. Marvelous to experience.

The worshipers truly encouraged one another, cared for one another, and helped one another show good to others. In their own context, familiar to them, on the west side of Chicago.

I know that we are supposed to encourage each other and care for each other, in our local assembly, in our congregation. But, some churches make it more difficult to do that. Some church buildings are large and impersonal. Like, for example, the church my husband’s sister attended years and years ago, in a nearby Chicago suburb. So cold and gloomy and impersonal! My husband did not want to go back there after he attended two or three times.

Other churches communicate an immediate feeling of warmth, welcome and fellowship. Is your church one of those? The Writer to the Hebrew believers instructs his scattered readers to not only encourage each other, in the assembly, but to be helpful to others outside of your congregation! Be kind! Reach out! And, that will honor God!

One great way to be an encouragement to our fellow congregation members AND to reach out to others out side of the church walls is by being faithful to our local assembly. As we are faithful in offering our time, talent and treasure to our local congregation, we can honor God.  Some might think that I am confused; I just got done with saying some believers try hard to reach God on their own through doing calculated “good deeds. Giving so much it hurts.

That is NOT the case. We don’t have to think, do or say just the right things to connect to God. It isn’t the good works we do. It isn’t the obligations we accomplish. Do you hear? It’s all about the relationship we have with our loving heavenly Parent! God wants relationship, not fear, not obligation. Not shoulds and arm-twisting and guilt, guilt, guilt!

God wants beloved children coming into the Heavenly Presence out of love, out of love and gratitude. That’s the vertical direction. Plus, God is so pleased when we extend that loving, caring relationship in a horizontal direction! To our fellow church member, yes! In reaching out to help others, outside the church walls, too.

We are encouraged to give – in response to God, in love and thankfulness – of our time, talents and treasure. (That means money.) God will be so pleased when we do! You and I will be amazed when we see how far our treasure goes, when we put it to work to help, strengthen, and encourage others. Let’s do this!

And, to God be the glory.  Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2018-11-12/hebrews-1011-14-15-18-19-25/

Be Strong, Courageous, Unafraid, My Son

“Be Strong, Courageous, Unafraid, My Son”

1 Chronicles 28:14-18 (28:20) – July 8, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

King Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem

An older father, giving the gift of encouragement and advice to his younger son. We have seen this sort of touching scene play out, over and over again. In books, on television, in movies. This is like a pep talk from a wonderful motivational speaker, only even better.

King David is aging, and he knows his time is short. God has already chosen David’s favorite son Solomon to be the next king, among all of his sons. (And, he did have a number of sons, from a number of different wives.) What is more, David calls together a large crowd of the leaders, nobles, and executives of Israel for an important royal address.

What is the backstory here? How did this grand scene with a cast of hundreds of the leaders and administrators of Israel come about?

For that, we’ll need to step back and consider King David. He was considered a man after God’s own heart. He wrote a good portion of the book of Psalms, the song book of the Bible. He truly had a relationship with the Lord. But—God did not want David to be the one to build a special Temple for the Lord in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? Why? Why was that?

King David had also been a warrior for years, and had either killed or ordered the killing of a large number of people. The Lord God communicated in no uncertain terms to David that he was not supposed to be the one to build the special Temple. It would be up to David’s son Solomon to build the special house of the Lord. That was by order from God most high.

Can you imagine the scene? All the people, gathered for this grand motivational speech at the end of David’s life. He had been collecting the best of everything for use in the construction of such a fine structure, for years. All for Solomon’s use, and all for the glory of God. Remember, this was a dearly beloved wish of David’s, to see God’s Temple built in Jerusalem.  

David had it all. In his prime, he was a skilled warrior. David also was a fine musician—he played the harp and wrote songs; he was incredibly attractive, and he was a natural leader of men. What was not to like about King David? Or, to look at him from another point of view, King David must have been really intimidating, certainly for young Solomon. And probably for most of all the leaders and administrators of Israel.

Why do coaches, teachers and other motivational speakers give those rousing speeches? To encourage and hearten their listeners, of course. King David must have known that Solomon needed encouragement, and even reassurance.

As an important note, King David also wanted to let everyone know for sure that Solomon was his chosen successor. Just in case, even after the death of David, he wanted everyone in the kingdom of Israel to understand that fact—even though there were a number of sons of David, including several with eyes on the throne and the king’s succession.

Let’s focus on Solomon, specifically. Sure, he had already been anointed as king, and David his father had already made his views on the succession crystal clear. Can you picture Solomon, standing there next to his father?

He must have been young and inexperienced. Plus, his father David was putting the extensive plans and provisions for the Temple into his hands.  What a remarkable position to be in.  His father David is at the end of his life, and the young, inexperienced Solomon is offered both detailed plans for the Temple plus letting everyone know—for sure—that Solomon is the one God wants to follow the aged David,

Let’s take a closer look at the provisions for the Temple. David made it absolutely clear to everyone listening that everything Solomon would need would be given to him. Reading from our scripture passage today again, “10 Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house as the sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.”

11 Then David gave his son Solomon the plans for the portico of the temple, its buildings, its storerooms, its upper parts, its inner rooms and the place of atonement. 12 He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the Lord and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things.”

Imagine how meticulous the Temple plans of King David were. The brief excerpt I just read was only scratching the surface. I get the feeling that this kind of explanation and planning might have been right up the young man Solomon’s alley. From several situations that are mentioned about the heir apparent, after he has succeeded to the throne, I suspect Solomon might have particularly relished the level and amount of detail in the plans.

There is another important focus in this passage. I could preach a whole sermon on this aspect of David’s instruction and command to his son. However, let us just mention the charge that David gave: “in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever.” In other words, be faithful to God! Follow the Lord all the days of your life! This is a solemn command, just as much as the rest.

We come, finally, to the assurance God has given to Solomon, and by extension, to all of us. “20 David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. God will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.”

Just like a skilled motivational speaker, David hits on facing and overcoming natural fears and anxieties. Plus, he also focuses on assuring his son of God’s caring, enabling presence. As commentator Leslie Allen says, “The Lord is David’s own God. David is testifying that God had seen him through every problem and would be there to help Solomon to the end.” [1]

“Be not afraid or discouraged!” This is on top of “Be strong and courageous!” After the clear unequivocal statement of God’s presence being with David his whole life long? What a tremendous encouragement and reassurance this must have been to Solomon, especially since David his father said those things in front of all the important people in Israel.

What is this summer sermon series all about? We are taking a look at different aspects of the “Be Not Afraid” passages. Yes, the aging David was giving his son a much-needed boost of encouragement, as well as reducing fear and anxiety. When anyone has a huge task looming over their heads, fear and anxiety naturally enters the picture. Solomon had two huge tasks ahead of him: that of taking over as king, and of building the Temple.

As we can see from the example of Solomon, fear of huge tasks can be disabling. Fear and anxiety can cause us to trip up, even to freeze. David has a remedy for this kind of paralyzing fear: do the work! This matter-of-fact strategy helps many people conquer their fears and overcome anxiety. This apparently was just the ticket for Solomon. And, this is a great suggestion for anyone facing a really big task.

Hear the words of David: be strong! Be courageous! Be not afraid! And then, we can celebrate. For, our God will be with us, even to the end of the age. Amen, alleluia.

[1] Allen, Leslie C., The First and Second Books of Chronicles, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 3 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 463.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Keep Awake!

“Keep Awake!”

mark 13-26-artistic-christian-clouds-

Mark 13:24-27 (13:27) – December 3, 2017

How difficult it is to keep watch! Imagine how hard it is when you know the estimated time of arrival. There is even an acronym for this—ETA. We know about the estimated time of arrival of planes and trains and buses. People give relatives and friends their estimated time of arrival if they are traveling a long way. It is the polite thing to do, even courteous and helpful thing to do. Just so that the people on the receiving end know when visitors or relatives will be arriving.

We know when the Baby in Bethlehem arrived. Two thousand years ago, that’s when! God the Son, the baby Jesus, God made flesh, was born into this world as a helpless Baby a little more than two thousand years ago, as foretold in Bethlehem. He was born into an oppressed people group, in a land that was under occupation, under a conquering power; born to a young woman and her fiancé with very little money, power, or other prestige.

This is the first Sunday of Advent, the weeks the Church sets aside to wait quietly, expectantly, for the Baby in Bethlehem to be born. Yet, these first two weeks of Advent also give us a look at the future: predictions and promises for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Here in our Gospel reading from Mark this morning, Jesus is asked about the timing of the second coming. When will this mysterious time come about?

Jesus—as is so often the case—does not give a direct answer. Instead, listen to His first example: “24 “In the days after that time of trouble the sun will grow dark, the moon will no longer shine, 25 the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers in space will be driven from their courses. 28 “Let the fig tree teach you a lesson. When its branches become green and tender and it starts putting out leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you will know that the time is near, ready to begin.”

Sure, the people of Jesus’s time were wondering when Messiah would return. When, Jesus? Please, just tell us when! How similar is that to our own time. Many, many people are dissecting both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament writings. They, too, ask when Messiah is going to return the second time? When, Jesus? Please, just tell us when!

Next, Jesus gives His listeners a parable about a householder and his servants. As the Rabbi Jesus says in our Gospel reading today, “34 It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves his servants in charge, after giving to each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch.”

We know that Jesus often tells His listeners stories about everyday things, with a twist. Somehow, Jesus uses these common, ordinary things to communicate powerful truths. In this parable, we see a bunch of servants working for a boss with a large household, a large piece of property. The boss goes away on a long journey, and his employees do not know when he will be back.

What would people at your workplace do in a situation like that, with the big boss gone for a really long time? Would your fellow employees continue working hard? Or, would some of them start fooling around? Maybe stop working altogether? How might you react, if this happened to you, or to someone you knew? Again, what would you do?

 Jesus totally skips over that part about exactly when the Messiah is coming back.

Instead, Jesus commands His listeners to “Keep watch!” Let’s look more closely at this story. We are not only supposed to wait expectantly, but we need to be alert. Not just to stand around and twiddle our thumbs like a bunch of do-nothings and know-nothings. Each servant—or employee has their own job to do. Each servant—or employee has an assigned task. The door-keeper has just about the most important job of all of them, which is to stay alert and to keep watch, no matter what. Keep an eye on things, and when the big boss unexpectedly returns, we are warned not to cut back or sleep or lie down on the job.

Let us consider today, in modern-day United States. When we think of Advent, what comes to our minds? Advent wreaths? Advent get-togethers after work or on the weekends? Maybe school holiday productions incorporating Advent?

Dr. David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, said “Each and all of it can be wonderful, and each and all of it can become rather overwhelming. So perhaps we might invite folks to make a short list – whether in their heads or on paper – of a few of the things that will occupy their Advent.[1]

What are you going to do for Advent? How are you going to get ready? How are you going to watch and keep awake?

I am not sure about anyone else here, but my December activities are threatening to become overwhelming. Can anyone else relate? Does anyone else have any idea about vulnerability and connecting with others?

The Church around the world is told to keep watch diligently. And then, “to think about how in each of those events and activities they might be more attentive to the vulnerability and need of those around them and more honest and open about their own need that they might receive the care of others.” [2]

Now, wait a minute, Jesus! I thought Advent was a time for us to wait and watch? A time for Advent calendars and Advent wreaths? I wanted to sit quietly in my corner and watch from the comfort of my easy chair. I did not want to step out of my comfort zone!

Guess what? The landlord—the big boss—has given all of us our jobs to do. In last week’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we are to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and visit the people in hospitals and in prison. Yes, this may be a lot for us to take in. However, the commands of Jesus are pretty important! Don’t you think we ought to sit up and pay attention to His commands?

Jesus and His commands can lead us in new directions. Pastor Janet Hunt makes the following suggestion: “knowing that it will all one day end can also set us free, can’t it?

  • Free to speak words of truth and hope and love.
  • Free to reach out in generosity and kindness.
  • Free to forgive what before seemed unforgivable.
  • Free to let go of what we thought we would always need.” [3]

What an exciting opportunity to truly be what Jesus—the householder—the big boss—is calling each of us to be. “How do we “keep awake” in this kingdom time of already-not-yet? Simply by being faithful to the tasks God has given us to do – the tasks of kindness, mercy, justice, faithfulness, and love.” [4] When we are faithful in these things, we will become more and more like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/advent-1-b/  “Preaching a Participatory Advent,” David Lose, …in the meantime, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/raking-in-the-dark/  “Raking in the Dark,” Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2017.

[4] From An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide, Week One. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide. Some of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this guide.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my Advent sermon series. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)